Lockstep government makes for bad lawmaking, as the nation found out when a Democratic Congress and Democratic president pushed through an unvetted and unpopular health care reform. On Aug. 7, Kansas Republicans must ensure that the Kansas Legislature retains its ability to check and balance Gov. Sam Brownback.
Kansas needs a sufficient diversity of views at the Statehouse to keep any one ideology from steamrolling all others. It has had that in recent years under moderate GOP and Democratic governors, and with a Senate led by Republicans who have reliably tempered the fiscal and social extremism of the more conservative Republican House.
On Aug. 8, that system of checks and balances could be a thing of Kansas’ past. That would be very bad for Kansas – at least the Kansas that has long valued adequately funded public schools and social services, top-quality roads and other transportation infrastructure, and an independent and impartial appellate court system.
After saying he wouldn’t get involved in primary races, Brownback is now openly working to unseat some eight moderate Republican senators. In some cases, he and his allies at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity are trying to take down some of the most effective and hardest-working members of the Legislature in favor of inexperienced, uninformed challengers whose only attribute seems to be the certainty that they will vote Brownback’s way. That’s just wrong.
The targeted members of the south-central Kansas delegation are Sens. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick, Jean Schodorf of Wichita and Dick Kelsey of Goddard. Based on their voting records, the Wichita Area Chamber of Commerce ought to be giving them awards. Instead, the chamber political action committee took up Brownback’s cause and endorsed their opponents last week, ludicrously trying to paint the incumbents as reckless tax-and-spenders and even link them to Boeing’s decision to leave Wichita.
Never mind the coalitions of legislators from across the state that they and especially McGinn, as the fearless chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, coaxed into voting “yes” year after year for state funding of Wichita chamber priorities including the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program, Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research and the National Center for Aviation Training, and for key statewide efforts meant to boost engineering, nursing and technical training.
Kansas already got a taste of “whatever-Brownback-wants” lawmaking in May, as the House pulled a fast one on the Senate leadership and approved a massive, unaffordable tax-cut plan full of problems and favored by no one – including the governor, until it became the only option available to him.
As the revenue problems guaranteed by those tax cuts begin to affect the state budget, a strong, moderating Senate will be especially needed. Otherwise, the governor and his conservative army will be free to make devastating spending cuts and off-load responsibility and consequences onto local governments.
No wonder former Republican Gov. Bill Graves felt motivated to visit Kansas last week to help out McGinn, Schodorf and other senators under siege.
“Government needs to be accountable. It needs to work,” Graves told the crowd at a Wichita fundraiser. But government plays a vital role, he said, and those in government have a responsibility that transcends the political agenda.
“This is all about who gets up and goes and votes,” Graves said about the Aug. 7 primary.
And who votes, and who doesn’t, will decide nothing less than who controls Kansas.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman